Pieces of the puzzle: Portland Timbers eager to put together "complete performance" against Real Salt Lake

BEAVERTON, Ore. – Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter has been talking a lot this week about pieces to a big puzzle.

Glimpses of how he wants his team to play for a full 90-minute performance have been seen throughout their first month and a half of the 2014 season.

One week, the Timbers have been stellar in possession, chances generated, and shots but have not found as many goals. The next week, it’s a solid defensive performance but less in the attack.

“The big thing is we can’t keep going in circles where we get one thing right and we’re correcting another thing and then we forget about the thing we got right last week,” Porter said following Friday’s session at the team training facility. “So I think the key is, like I’ve been saying all week, to put together a complete performance.”

And with the team traveling to Utah to take on Real Salt Lake Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium (6:30 pm PT; KPTV), the Timbers know there’s no time like the present to put it all together.

Portland drew twice with RSL last year in six matches, though Porter said there were plenty of little pieces of positive play against Real last year to draw confidence from.

“Last year was a different year, but I think there are a lot of positives in looking at games last year,” Porter said. “Even though we didn’t get a win against them last year, there were three games in particular where I felt like we played well enough to get the win.”

Porter pointed to the scoreless draw on Oct. 19 where he said “we defended very well” and allowed just seven RSL shots. He said their 3-3 draw Aug. 21 featured a solid attack that “opened them up.” And he said their best game against them came Aug. 7 in a 2-1 loss in a U.S. Open Cup semifinal game at Rio Tinto Stadium. Additinally, over the course of the two-leg Western Conference Championship series, the Timbers outpossessed RSL with 52.3%.

“I think it’s kind of similar to our season so far, we can take positives out of every game that we’ve played and against them last year there were some very good moments,” Timbers captain Will Johnson said. “But kind of like our season, we haven’t put together a complete performance. So if we take bits and pieces and moments in games that we played against them last year and put it all together in a 90-minute performance, we can have success.”

As was detailed in last year’s six meetings, both the Timbers and RSL play a very similar high-pressing, possession game. And after the Timbers edged out RSL for the regular-season conference title before being eliminated by them in the playoffs, the matchup took on rivalry like qualities.

“I think our players enjoy this type of game because they know it’s going to be decided on who is the best soccer team, not who is the best at kicking the ball long and fighting for physical battles,” Porter said. “But at the same time, they’re really good at what they do. It’s quite a challenge to play against this team.”

For Johnson, who played with Salt Lake for five years before being traded to the Timbers ahead of the 2013 season, he said getting their first win of 2014 from a game where all signs point toward an RSL result would be icing on the cake.

“Every game that we go into we approach it trying to win the game, we’re not thinking about this being our first win or not,” Johnson said. “But just given last year them knocking us out of the playoffs it’d be nice to get one back on them for sure.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com